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Florida Attorney General Urging UF Students Not to Attend Richard Spencer Appearance

October 17th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The planned appearance of white nationalist Richard Spencer at the University of Florida continues to evoke emotion at the State Capitol.
 
“I would urge all students not to go to that. There’s no place for hatred and espousing these horrible, horrible views,” said Attoney General Pam Bondi.
 
How students will react to the controversial speaker is a concern.
 
A Brookings Institute study found a bare majority of 51% of college students think it’s okay to shout and drown out speech they find offensive.
At FSU we got a similar response.
 
“I think you should listen to what anyone has to say and then wait with your rebuttal,” saoid FSU student Karl Roche.
 
“Yeah, you can shout over someone that’s exercising their free speech. I mean, it’s not cool,” said FSU student Serfina Cruz. 
 
More shockingly, the Brookings Study found 1 out of 5 students agreed violence was okay to use against offensive  speakers.
 
All of the students we interviewed say they disagreed with using violence. But none of were surprised by how many had answered yes in the survey.
“I mean obviously there’s going to be a split between people so some people are going to think violence is the answer,” said FSU student Alexandra Marcus. 
Ahead of Spencer’s planned UF visit, Governor Rick Scott Declared a state of emergency to protect students.
 
“I believe in the first amendment rights that people have. I do expect people to be safe. I wont condone any violence,” said Governor Scott. 
 
Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Rick Swearingen will be in Gainesville, overseeing law enforcement operations.
 
“Those who show up to exercise their constitutional right under the first amendment, they will have no issues. Those who show up to engage or encourage violence, they’re going to have problems,” said Sweringen. 
 
Protests have already begun being held on UF’s campus ahead of Spencer’s appearance.
The Brookings study also found that six out of ten students believe event organizers are legally required to provide opposing viewpoints. No such law exists.

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Number of Irma Related Insurance Claims Rises to Over 745,000

October 17th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Insured losses from Hurricane Irma continue to rise.
The state’s insurance commissioner told the Governor and Cabinet that as of Friday, there were 747,534 claims filed with an estimated loss of 4 point 9 billion dollars.
More claims are expected says Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.
“What we’re hearing is that we had a lot of claims… it was a high frequency low severity event… A lot of claims that aren’t costing a whole lot on an individual basis, but that are still going to add up for the carriers,” said Altmaier.
 
Some insurers will be able to tap into the state’s hurricane catastrophe fund, which operates as a reinsurance fund for companies.
The fund has more than 17 billion dollars to cover losses.

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No Card, No Medicine for Thousands of Medical Marijuana Patients

October 16th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Thousands of medical marijuana patients are caught in a catch 22. They have been recommended for treatment, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us. they can’t start receiving medication until they receive an ID card from the state, which has been delayed because of short staffing.

Lauren Drake’s parents, both in their 70’s, have been recommended for medical marijuana. Getting the recommendation has been far easier than getting the medicine.

“It took 50 days for an approval. They still haven’t received their cards” says Drake.

Christian Bax, the Director of Medical Marijuana Use in Florida told lawmakers the ID card delay was running 30 days.

Others. like Lauren, says the wait can be two or even three months.

Jeff Sharkey of the Medical marijuana Business Assn says part of the problem is short staffing.

“You know, if you’re sick, it’s a long wait” says Sharkey.

Lauren’s problem gets more complicated:

“My mother doesn’t know what to go down and get from the one dispensary that we have in our location. My father is not capable of going. I don’t know how, at this point, to go and get the caregiver card so that I can go” says the caregiver.

Lauren can’t get a caregivers card because the state has yet to issue rules for getting them. She says the state isn’t focusing on patients.

“Why couldn’t my parents walk out and immediately go to the local dispensary and get medicine. I don’t understand what the holdup was” she says.

The delay is shortening the time between patients visits to their doctor, increasing their costs.

When patients get a recommendation for medical marijuana, it’s good for nine months. But here’s the problem: the clock starts ticking the day that recommendation is made, not when the card is issued.

The department is in the process of hiring a private vendor to issue ID cards. But the wait could get worse before it gets better.

This afternoon, the Department of Health said it now had 44,164 patients and 1,066 doctors. The department has issued 21,873 cards to date. The department also says their email can serve as a temporary card, but one Ft. Myers patient told us by phone his dispensary would not accept his email.

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Nursing Homes Battle the State in Administrative Hearing

October 13th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Nursing Homes are duking it out with the Agency for Health Care Administration in front off an administrative judge over an emergency rule requiring facilities to install generators in their facilities.
They’re challenging the rule’s November 15th deadline.
The generators are required by an emergency rule issued in mid-September following the deaths of 8 elderly residents in a Broward County nursing home.
Days later the death toll hit 14.
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities faced off with the state in the Administrative hearing Friday.
The homes are arguing 60 days is not enough time to plan for and install generators and four days of fuel.
Homes that miss the deadline face a $1,000 dollar a day fine and potentially the loss of their license.
“There’s so many moving pieces to this to be able to come in full compliance,” said Gwen Thibault, Chairperson of the Florida Argentum Association.
The state says homes who can prove they can’t meet the deadline can ask for another 6 months to comply.
“The ability to comply with this rule is there, the waiver process is there, which gives relief for those that, for a good reason, can’t,” said Attorney Steve Ecenia, representing AHCA and the Department of Elder Affairs.
The Agency for Health Care Administration released a new emergency rule Thursday, outlining in detail how facilities can apply for the extension.
It came as good news to nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“It’s a step in the right direction and does take away the ability to fine us,” said Thibault.
Despite concerns from nursing homes, the state says most should be able to make the 60 deadline.
A deadline it argues, that will make residents safer.
“We’ve seen the danger that not putting a safe environment for people can cause and we want to ensure that doesn’t happen in the future,” said Ecenia.
Even if the emergency rule is overturned, nursing homes likely wouldn’t be off the hook.
At least three bills have been filed for the 2018 session to require generators.
The nursing home groups have also filed challenges to the emergency rule in a state appellate court.

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Frank White Joins Race For Attorney General

October 13th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A freshman legislator from Pensacola, Frank White, has entered the race for Attorney General to succeed term limited Pam Bondi.
White says he will be the conservative voice in the race.
“You know first I want to protect consumers, and especially seniors. That’s my top priority. Second, I want to fight those who are attacking the Constitution. So stand up for our constitution, fighting liberal tax, and finally just know every tax payer dollar that goes into that office will be spent wisely,” said White.
White joins Ashley Moody, a former Judge from Hillsborough County and Bondi’s pick for a replacement.
State Representative Jay Fant of Jacksonville is also seek the top law enforcement job.

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USDA Says Florida’s Citrus Crop Fared Better than Expected

October 12th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Orange lovers got a bit of good news Thursday.
Irma’s damage to the states citrus industry isn’t quite as bad as first thought according to the latest projections released by the USDA, but the State’s Agriculture Commissioner is still seeking Federal help.
Irma is estimated to have wiped out 70% of the states citrus crop this year.
Early estimates projected the crop would have the lowest yield in 75 years.
The new projections show the crop fareed better than anticipated: Oranges are down 21% from last year.  Grapefruit and tangerines are down almost 40%.
While Irma is long gone, the damage is still pilling up every day.
“You can stand in the grove and continue to hear fruit fall,”Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam  Putnam said.
The wide spread scope of the damage will likely translate to higher prices at the grocery store.
“The alternative to that would be a flood of imports from foreign countries that could over time replace market share that should be going to Florida’s farmers,” said Putnam.
Putnam wants Congress to allocate $2.5 billion to help farmers around the state recover.
A Senate Committee heard from farmers Thursday.
3rd generation Citrus Farmer and Citrus commission chairman Ellis Hunt Jr. says he’d never seen damage as great as Irma’s.
“This time it got everything. We did not survive in any area and it’s just that widespread damage that’s the real devastation this go around,” said Hunt.
State Senator Dennis Baxley says the need for Federal assistance is imperative if the industry is to recover.
“The urgency is upon us and this is 20% of our economy is still agriculture, although Florida’s changed a lot,” said Senator Baxley.
Relief could be voted on as early as next week or as late as December.
The Disaster Aid bill passed through the US House of Representatives this afternoon.
The request for Agriculture relief wasn’t included.
The bill will be taken up by the US Senate next week.

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State Democrats Call For Special Session to Respond to Puerto Rican Evacuees Entering the State

October 12th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
State Democrats are calling on the Federal and State Government to do more to help the Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria.
Lawmakers held a press conference this afternoon in the Capitol demanding a special session to come up with a plan for how to deal with the thousands of evacuees expected to flood into the state.
They want more state aid for evacuees, a plan to integrate the thousands of new school children expected to arrive and to ensure Puerto Ricans who show up can access healthcare and affordable housing.
“When they’re here, they need help. They’re not leaving right away if they don’t have a place to go back to and so we urge as my colleague urged further, we need to help them there and we need to help them here. These are our brothers and sisters. These are American citizens. These are Puerto Ricans,” said Representative Amy Mercado.
Some estimates predict as many as 100,000 Puerto Ricans may come to Florida.

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Rare Subpoena Seeks Baground on “Emeril Florida” and “Bass2Billfish” Shows

October 12th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A Public Integrity Committee of the Florida House today voted to issue subpoenas to a private vendor over contracts with the states tourism arm. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, lawmakers say the subpoenas were a last resort.

Florida taxpayers spent as much as 18 million dollars over a five year period through Visit Florida, funding  a cooking show with Emeril Lagasse,

And a fishing show ”Bass 2 Billfish”.

The Public Integrity and Ethics Committee was told by its lawyer, Adam Tenenbaum, that he’d asked for the records informally. He says a subpoenas is the last resort.

“There wasn’t an affirmative decline or refusal, it was just an absence of action” Tenenbaum told the committee.

State documents require vendors to produce backup documents when requested.

Rep. Larry Ahern (R-St. Petersburg) offered the motion to issue the subpoena.

“I move that the committee approve the issuance of subpoenas” said Ahern.

At the center of the dispute is Tallahassee insider and political operative Pat Roberts.

“Calling Pat Roberts mobile”.

Roberts did not return our phone call

Chair Larry Metz says its too early to know if Roberts will be asked to testify.

“So whether we do that or not remains to be seen. I have no idea. We’re gonna see what the documents show first of all” Metz told reporters afterward.

 

In the end, Rep. Larry Ahern admits its highly unlikely the state will recover any of the money.

“Quite honestly, I’d be surprised if there was any recovery. But again, it might be a lesson for the future when these types of things, these public private partnerships that everyone seems o keen on sometimes, that we take a little more time”.

The review of the contracts was sought by the House Speaker after his very public feud with Visit Florida earlier this year.

And lawmakers say they have yet to clear up who owns the copywriter to the two shows and and cash that might come from re-runs.

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Slavery Memorial Legislation Picks Up Speed and Passes First Committee Stop

October 11th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
While confederate monuments around the country are falling, the Florida Legislature is poised to put a new monument up recognizing the same time period, but the monument would honor those at the heart of the Civil War.
Monuments dot the grounds of the state Capitol. They honor first reposnders, veterans and even Martain Luther King Jr.
Now, Florida is one step closer to adding a new monument to the grounds after a House committee gave a near unanimous thumbs up to a bill constructing a slavery memorial.
“Adding this is a good thing. Not only to remind us of the injustices that have happened in the past, but in the light of everything that’s happening right now,” said Representative Blaise Ingoglia.
There’s no design for the monument yet. That will be left to planners if the bill becomes law.
The bill ran into trouble last session, but after the events in Charlottesville the Legislation has taken on a new importance. Senator Dennis Baxley is credited with killing the bill last session. He says that won’t be the case this time around.
“We should all honor those who came before us because we’re none perfect and we didn’t live in their time, but we can see the challenges that they faced and I want to reward that. And I want to be about building monuments rather than tearing them down and I need to make good on that and so I’m going to try to,” said Senator Baxley.
The bill has strong bipartisan support this year, and lawmakers on both side are optimistic the legislation will pass.
“You’re looking at an incoming leader of the Florida House for the Minority Party here along with the chair of the Republican Party of Florida. If there’s ever a moment where true bipartisanship is shown, it’s here on this defining issue,” said the bill’s sponsor, Representative Kionne McGhee.
If constructed, the monument would be the first of its kind at any state Capitol.
The monument would be constructed by the Department of Management Services. There’s no official cost estimate for the construction.

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State Senators Weigh in on Proposal to Require Charter Schools to Be Shelters for Sate Building Funds

October 11th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Durring hurricane Irma most traditional public schools around the state opened their doors to those seeking shelter. Only a select few Public Charter Schools chose to do so.
To put more pressure on Charter Schools to pull their weight during storms Florida Democratic Lawmakers have announced Legislation which would prohibit Charters from receiving state building funds if their facilities aren’t built to shelter standards.
State Senator Bill Montford thinks it’s a good idea.
“Students deserve whether they’re charter schools or not charter schools, they deserve to go to a school that’s structurally sound and meet the same safety standards,” said Sen. Montford.
Republican State Senator Tom Lee says the proposal would put more strain on schools to be built to unnecessarily high standards.
“Let’s have a level playing field. Lets not force the public education system to build schools to standards that add no value. Many of these standards don’t necessarily relate to structural integrity or wind storm capability,” said Sen. Lee.
The Legislation is to be sponsored by House Minority Leader Representative Janet Cruz from Tampa.

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Florida Democrats Remind the Public of ACA Open Enrollment Period

October 11th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
State Democrats held a press conference at the state Capitol Wednesday afternoon to remind Floridians open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act is scheduled for November 1st through December 5th.
After multiple attempts by Republican Lawmakers in the US Capitol to repeal the ACA, they want to reassure people the program is still open for business.
The Trump administration despite failing to repeal the law, has slashed advertising budgets by 90%, which have accounted for 37% of enrollments over the past several months.
“In the face of repeated driving opposition and attempts to thwart the ACA’s continued existence, we rise together, because we know how impact-full and important the policy has been in creating more healthy, more economically secure families and individuals within our communities,” said Representative Nicholas Duran.
State Lawmakers say they plan to hold enrollment events in their local districts.

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Dept. of Juvenile Justice’s “Dirty Laundry”

October 11th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A two year investigation by the Miami Herald found life and death troubles at the states Department of Juvenile Justice, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, state lawmakers say they will demand answers.

An officer is seen beating a 17 year old with a flashlight in this video from a Jacksonville detention center. The youth was allegedly asking for water. The officer was hired despite being on probation for a battery.

In this video, the officer wasn’t moving to stop a fight, he was reportedly refereeing it.

DJJ Secretary Cristy Daly was already scheduled to appear at a budget meeting Wednesday when she was asked about the investigation.

“I will not deny, or discredit, or downplay some of the horrible incidents that have happened. We respond appropriately to those. We hold people accountable” Daly told the committee.

Most detention centers for teens are run by private contractors.

We asked the secretary about their hiring practices.

Q:“Do your vendors do psychological evaluations of the people they hire?”

I don’t believe that they all utilize, I believe there are different screening tools” the Secretary responded.

Senator Jeff Clemons says the problem is the state turned over its police powers to private companies.


‘A lack of accountability, the inability to make sure we are doing it correctly. And here, we’re talking about kids” says Clemons.

We asked one State Attorney as he was leaving the meeting if he had any pause about sending kids to DJJ. He said yes and no. What else am I going to do. They gotta clean up their their act.”

Chairman Jeff Brandes (R-St.Petersburg)  promises a thorough follow up.

“I want to speak to her on the record in front of the committee asking difficult questions, specifically about hiring practices.”

Governor Rick Scott has already asked for a ten percent pay hike for Juvenile Justice workers

The legislature is asking DJJ to voluntarily allow lawmakers to make surprise visits to juvenile centers. It’s not specifically allowed under current law, but is likely to become law this coming session.

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Lawmakers Told Prison Trends include Fewer Admissions but not a Drop in Population

October 11th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida is seeing the lowest crime rate in decades, and fewer prison admissions, but the prison population has been holding steady for a decade. The reason is 108 minimum mandatory sentencing laws, and police concentrating on more violent crimes resulting inlander sentences. Criminal Justice Consultant Michael Wilson told lawmakers the biggest drop in new admissions has been for drug crimes.

“All crime types have lower admissions in 2016 than we had in 2017. what really stands out are the drug crimes. Drug crimes have dropped more than any of the other offense categories, nearly cut in half over this ten year period in terms of admissions to prison” says Wilson.

State lawmakers commissioned the study to find out what changes they could make to save taxpayer money. Committee Chairman Jeff Brandes says any bills containing mandatory sentences will give judges the right to impose lower sentences if they can be justified.

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Replacement for Statue of Confederate General in US Capitol Get its First Okay

October 10th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Florida may have a new representative in the United States Capitol, but it’s not a lawmaker.
Instead a new statue.
Legislation to replace the current statue of a confederate general representing the state passed it’s first committee meeting this morning.
Records over how Confederate General Kirby Smith got to represent Florida in the US Capitol in 1922 are sketchy.
He was born in St. Augustine, but moved a short time later.
“I think confederate statues like the one we’re replacing belong in a museum,” said Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith.
In 2016 the state Legislature voted to remove Smith’s statue.
A special committee named three possible replacements.
Mary McLeod Bethune, Everglades savior Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, and Publix founder George Jenkins.
“Mary McLeod Bethune was unanimously chosen by this committee,” said Representative Patrick Henry, the bill’s sponsor.
On Tuesday the favorite pick of the nominees got its first stamp of approval from a House committee.
The choice is Marry McLeod Bethune, a civil rights activist and founder of Bethune-Cookman University.
“This takes a step in improving race relations and letting the rest of the country know that Florida is willing to step out and do what’s right,” said Rep. Henry.
Only one member of the committee voted no.
Representative Wengay Newton says even with the no vote the overwhelming support for the nomination is a step in the right direction.
“Twenty-one members there and twenty of them saw fit to do the right thing,” said Rep. Newton.
Pushing the choice over the finish line won’t be easy.
There are still holdouts in the legislature who want to keep the general. And there are other that want Walt Disney to personify the state.
Bethune would be the first African American woman to represent a state in the US Capitol.
If Mary McLeod Bethune is the final choice, the statue will come at no cost to the state.
The University she founded has offered to privately fund the statue.
The cost is estimated at $388,000.

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State Democrats Release Plans for 2018 Hurricane Legislation

October 10th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A month after Hurricane Irma, Democratic State Lawmakers unveiled their plans for Legislation to fix systematic failures during and after the storm made landfall.
Some of the proposals include sweeping nursing home regulations, making it illegal for employers to fire staff who fail to show up for work during a mandatory evacuation and blocking state building funds from Charter Schools that aren’t qualified to act as hurricane shelters.
The bills have a long way to go, but Democrats say they’re hopeful for bi-partisan support on most of their proposals.
“We’re glad that the speaker has convened a select committee on Hurricane response and preparedness and it is our hope that this committee operates in a good faith and bipartisan manor as we improve Florida’s readiness for future storms,” said Representative Bobby DuBose.
Other proposals introduced include automatically waiving tolls during evacuations, mandatory generators for walk in clinics and allowing municipalities to contract with outside businesses for debris removal. Democrats also called for a Federal investigation into the Hollywood Hills Nursing Home, where 14 elderly residents died after power was lost at the facility.

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